Monday, 2 August 2010


On Saturday evening, our friend Sophie took us to the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Promenade Concert's Stephen Sondheim at 80 tribute: an unforgettable birthday treat for Sibley at 61 --- thanks, Soph!

Obviously we didn't take any pix of the concert (photography not allowed) but we did snap a few pre-show photos of the RAH and, in particular, the mushroom-shaped space aliens that live in the building's dome disguised as fibreglass acoustic diffusing discs...

Alien Mushrooms (1)

Alien Mushrooms (5)
...and a shot of an open window up in the gallery that went a bit wrong and which I then turned into this...


And here, until it gets removed (as it undoubtedly will) is a clip from the BBC telecast of Dame Judi Dench sending in Mr Sondheim's clowns...

Images: © Brian Sibley and David Weeks 2010

You'll find a RAH window by David on my Window Gazing blog and there are more mushrooms (and other stuff) on my flickr set Looking at London.


polkadotsoph said...


SharonM said...

It was a terrific Prom and has made me appreciate the music of Sondheim more. It's not the easiest to get into, but it's certainly growing on me after Sunday night.

Brian Sibley said...

Poladotsoph - :)

SharonM - You're right: Sondheim doesn't go for the easiest, most obviously appealing, melody line and his lyrics are complex and challenging, but the rewards are considerable.

Wonderful though the concert was, to understand and appreciate many of the songs ('Send in the Clowns' is an almost stand alone exception) you need to see the shows - which is not easily done since (unlike the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber) they don't run on the London - or Broadway - stage for 20 years or more.

However, some productions are on film and you'll find the first page of them at here and I'm sure cheaper, s/h, copies are out there on ebay.

scb said...

Ooh, lovely! (What a wonderful birthday present!)

I've been listening to BBC3's iPlayer broadcast since a friend in Ireland alerted me to the concert. How wonderful it would have been to have been there in person!

Thanks for sharing. Glad you enjoyed it!

Brian Sibley said...

It was a very special night to be sure. :)

Steven Hartley said...

I saw Judi Dench singing 'Send in the Clowns', brilliant!

I heard that the song is apparrantly about a woman who had an affair with someone years ago, and the word 'clown' I heard about doesn't actually refer to circus clowns, I think it was another description of 'fool'.

Brian Sibley said...

Yes, Steven, that is right.

In a 1990 interview, Sondheim said:

"I get a lot of letters over the years asking what the title means and what the song's about... I wanted to use theatrical imagery in the song, because she's an actress, but it's not supposed to be a 'circus'...

"It's a theater reference meaning, 'if the show isn't going well, let's send in the clowns'; in other words, 'let's do the jokes.' I always want to know, when I'm writing a song, what the end is going to be, so 'Send in the Clowns' didn't settle in until I got the notion, 'Don't bother, they're here' which means that 'We are the fools.'"

Interviewed again, in 2008, Sondheim added:

"As I think of it now, the song could have been called 'Send in the Fools.' I knew I was writing a song in which Desirée is saying, 'aren't we foolish' or 'aren't we fools'? Well, a synonym for fools is clowns, but 'Send in the Fools' doesn't have the same ring to it."

And he was right!

Brian Sibley said...

...Also, there is something pathetic about the situation in which that Desirée finds herself which remind us that 'clowns' (think of Charlie Chaplin or, in circus terms, the white-faced clown with the down-turned mouth) are often characters of pathos - even comically tragic.